If all goes as planned, legislation authorizing a doubling of the National
Science Foundation's budget will move to the Senate floor in the near
future. Following Senate consideration, a conference between key House
and Senate authorizers will then resolve differences between the two
versions of the bill, clearing the way for a final vote on passage.
The outlook for the legislation is clouded, however, as the Bush Administration
is opposed to several provisions in the bill.
In early June, the House approved by a vote of 397-25 a bill that would
put the NSF on track for a doubling of its budget in five years, although
it was limited to an initial three years. Shortly before the Senate
went on its summer recess, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced
S. 2817, which authorized a doubling of the foundation's budget over
five years. After the recess, Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor and
Pensions Committee met quickly in a small room of the Capitol and passed
Two committees have jurisdiction over NSF in the Senate. S. 2817 was
then referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation,
which considered the bill on September 19. The committee had 13 bills
on its plate that day, and took about ten minutes to review S. 2817.
That was enough time to reveal some important opposition to this bill.
Ranking Minority Member John McCain (R-AZ) spoke against an authorization
for five years, saying that it was a very long period of time. McCain
wanted to know how the additional money would be used. He also cited
a letter on National Science Foundation letterhead stating opposition
to the bill as written.
Some of this opposition is to be expected. The authorization for FY
2003 was higher than the Bush Administration requested. The letter said:
"the amounts authorized in S. 2817 do not conform to the Administration's
FY 2003 Budget request for NSF. NSF supports the Administration's budget
request and therefore the bill should be amended to reflect the amounts
contained in the authorizing legislation the Foundation transmitted
to the Congress on May 14, 2002. Moreover, Dr. John Marburger, Director
of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and
the President's Science Advisor, has stated that any plans for increased
expenditures must be supported by a specific rationale for each increase,
rather than an arbitrary formula." Marburger made a similar point
during an August PCAST conference call when he objected to "arbitrary
formulas" for budget increases (see FYI
The NSF letter also expressed opposition to a provision of S. 2817
moving the Department of Education's portion of the Math- Science Partnership
Program to NSF (see FYI
#105). Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings (D-SC)
expressed his disappointment with that proposal during the mark up,
saying "I think we can work that out." Finally, the NSF letter
outlined the foundation's concern about the Kennedy bill's provisions
on liberalizing EPSCoR eligibility, its relation to the National Science
Board, and a program to increase participation of women, minority, and
disabled students working toward an S&T degree. The Association
of American Universities has posted the letter on its web site at http://www.aau.edu/research/NSFLtr9.17.02.html
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) responded to McCain's concerns by describing
the lengthy time that basic research requires. Engineering and physical
science funding had lagged, he said. A five year authorization, Wyden
stated, would not preclude the committee from exercising its oversight
function. With that, McCain withdrew his amendment. By voice vote Holling's
committee approved the bill.
The new fiscal year starts today without any of the thirteen appropriations
bills signed into law. No one knows what will happen next. For now,
funding for NSF and all of the other federal departments and agencies
will continue at the current level.